73 More Bodies Found at Uganda Cult Site

RUGAZI, Uganda Mar 27 -- Prison laborers dug layer-by-layer through rotting corpses Monday, pulling dozens of bodies from a mass grave at a sugarcane field -- the third scene of carnage linked to a doomsday cult.

The laborers unearthed 73 bodies, including two dozen children and babies, from the field belonging to a defrocked Catholic priest who was one of the sect leaders. The grim discovery brings the number of cult-related deaths that police have confirmed to 562 since a March 17 fire in a makeshift church.

Two other compounds in southwestern Uganda belonging to the sect remained to be examined. James Bangirana, a local police official, said late Monday that wasn't certain that all the bodies of sect victims had been found.

Some of the bodies recovered Monday bore stab wounds and others had pieces of cloth wrapped tightly around their throats. They appeared to have been dead at least a month, said Dr. Ben Twetegire.

The prisoners, shirtless and shoeless, stood head-high in the trench, sweating and digging under a glaring midday sun as they worked to unearth the bodies.

They covered their noses in gauze and passed cigarettes among themselves to try to ward off the enveloping stench, which drifted for hundreds of yards across lush hillsides overlooking a series of volcanic lakes. Onlookers and police plucked leaves from a cypress tree and thrust them into their nostrils to ease the stench. As the twisted bodies were hoisted from the reddish brown earth, villagers pressed against the crude wood fence at the edge of the cane field.

But there were no screams of recognition. The bodies were apparently those of strangers -- sect members who came for seminars on righteous living and the end of the world from former priest Dominic Kataribabo, a leader in the Movement for the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.

The bodies, some of them dismembered and one visibly pregnant, were examined for little more than a minute each by Twetegire, who dictated his horrific notes to Medal Magdalene, a 30-year-old health worker. Prisoners then picked up the bodies and flung them into a nearby trench for reburial.

Standing next to the doctor, Magdalene's list went on and on:

Body No. 38. young male. largely decomposed.

Body No. 39. young female. badly decomposed. external signs of violence.

Police inspector Chris Tindigarukayo said authorities didn't wait for forensics experts to examine the bodies before reburial because they feared the spread of disease.

The cursory examinations came as the Ugandan government announced it had created a team of investigators, supposedly to examine the bodies found in Rugazi and re-exhume corpses found elsewhere.

The team, which includes chemists, a pathologist and forensic experts, would be heading into the interior in the next day or so, police spokesman Eric Naigambi said by telephone from Kampala, Uganda's capital.

After Rugazi, the team was to go to the village of Buhunga, where they will re-exhume 153 bodies of sect members found there last week in mass graves, quickly examined by a local doctor, and reburied. Terenzi Kingera, a regional officer with Uganda's criminal investigation division, said the doctor had been ''overwhelmed'' by the job, so the corpses needed to be re-examined.

Kingera said the investigators' main goal would be figuring out ''how could so many people be killed. Were they poisoned and with which kind of poison?''

The investigation has been plagued by logistical problems since it began. Police are ill-trained and desperately ill-funded, often without vehicles or fuel to power them.

Senior Ugandan officials, meanwhile, have quoted witnesses as saying the sect's two top leaders -- Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, and Joseph Kibweteere, 68 -- may have left Kanungu on March 17, the same day a church fire there killed 330 members. Six more bodies were later found in a pit latrine in Kanungu.

The fire deaths were initially viewed as a mass suicide. However, many have speculated that the two leaders fled because the world did not end Dec. 31 as they had predicted and sect members wanted back the belongings they surrendered on joining.

Authorities now are treating all the deaths as murders.

Jim Muhezi, a member of parliament and a onetime head of Uganda's internal security agency, theorized Saturday that sect leaders cracked down viciously on the defiant, poisoning some, and urging a mass suicide to curb further defections.

Police discovered the Rugazi grave Friday when they came to inspect the compound that had belonged to Kataribabo, who is believed to have died in the Kanungu fire.

Kanungu, Buhunga and Rugazi are all in the mountains of southwestern Uganda, near the border with Rwanda and Congo and no more than 50 miles apart.

The sect once had up to 1,000 members. Authorities fear most may have become victims.

Reporter: The Associated Press


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